Commentary

Caddyshack 101 class is no slouch

Originally Published: September 17, 2010
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- History is old news. Physics has fizzled out. Math doesn't add up.

Oh, sure. There will always be room for traditional subjects throughout institutions of higher learning, but a visit to Lynn University shows some, ahem, alternative topics being addressed. Like movies. No, wait -- not movies. One movie. And it just happens to be the greatest cult classic golf comedy ever produced.

That's right. There's a course on "Caddyshack."

There are a few things you need to know, though, before sitting down in one of the comfy movie theater-style chairs surrounded by the off-white walls of de Hoernle Lecture Hall here in a city better known for migrating snowbirds than higher education. Even though Professor Ted Curtis' class is titled, "Caddyshack 101: Lessons from the Coolest Sports Movie Ever Made," there will be no pop quiz on how to eliminate gophers, no oral presentation reliving Carl Spackler's famous Dalai Lama speech, not even an essay question on the seductive ways of Lacey Underall.

Too bad, huh?

"This is not about the film," said Curtis, the affable genius behind this idea who has worked in the university's sports management department for 11 years. "The film is hilarious and crude and wonderful, but it really is just a vehicle for talking about all of the different areas in the liberal arts, from race relations to civility to heroes in our society. Nobody gets handed a Fresca in class. Nobody gets a free bowl of soup. And nobody has to be the ball."

Offered as part of a mini term scheduled in between the fall and spring schedules in an effort to keep students on campus and continue the learning process during winter break, the class at times has nary a mention of the movie.

On this particular morning, the film elicits exactly three references. The first is a video showing Bill Murray's eccentric character, groundskeeper Spackler, giving a speech that ranked 92nd in the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema.

"The crowd is just on its feet here. He's a Cinderella boy. Tears in his eyes, I guess, as he lines up this last shot. He's got about 195 yards left, and he's got a, looks like he's got about an 8-iron. This crowd has gone deadly silent ... Cinderella story, out of nowhere, former greenskeeper, now about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac --- it's in the hole! It's in the hole!"

Funny? Of course, especially to a large portion of the 72 students who hadn't seen the movie before signing up for the course. It's true. While any 19th hole loiterer worth his weight in beer nuts can recite nearly every line from this classic, many of these youngsters -- hailing from such countries as France, Italy, Poland, Ecuador and the Czech Republic -- are hardly students of the film.

The clip doesn't just offer levity to the classroom, though. Its greater purpose is to spark a discussion on heroism. "How do you define a hero? What makes a hero?" Curtis asks. "Is there anyone that dreams of being a hero more than Carl Spackler?"

In case you hadn't yet guessed, "Caddyshack 101" isn't exactly one of those formal lecture-series type of classes. Curtis' students help provide a give-and-take conversational tone, in which this topic evolves from Spackler to Martin Luther King Jr., to those who donated money to the Haiti crisis relief fund, to Thomas Carlyle, a 19th century historian, writer and teacher who initiated the "Great Man Theory."

All of which leads to ... gophers. "Is the gopher a hero in the movie?" Curtis asks with a smile. "Maybe not, but it gives me the opportunity to show the gopher dancing."

Not wanting to devolve too far into the depths of the film's humor, the professor turns the discussion into one on greatness in sports. "Is it enough to just win," he queries. "Does winning make you great?"

The obvious case in question is Tiger Woods, the 71-time PGA Tour champion who was embroiled in a headline-inducing personal scandal for extramarital affairs. The students proffer their diagnoses.

"If you took any other player, it wouldn't be big news." ... "In the sport, he's a hero. But outside the sport, he's a regular person." ... "Before this whole scandal, you really could have considered him a hero. He made a difference in people's lives. People looked up to him."

The topic leads to an in-class work assignment. Unlike other courses, though, which offer five minutes of silence or perhaps some classical music to accompany such a chore, the students are treated to their third and final "Caddyshack" reference of the day -- the music video for Kenny Loggins' movie theme, "I'm Alright."

It's all part of the curriculum for Curtis, who is still the beneficiary of quizzical looks and headshaking when telling relatives and friends that he is teaching a course that revolves around "Caddyshack." Everyone, it seems, except for the Lynn University officials who not only approved the class, but encouraged it.

"A few years ago, the administration challenged the faculty to come up with new and exciting ways to engage the students, to teach them in ways that perhaps we hadn't thought of before," said Curtis, who previously offered a course on the New York Yankees. "And I thought, 'How can I talk about all of the exciting things in the liberal arts with a sports spin?' I said to myself, 'It's got to be something in golf.' Well, golf equals 'Caddyshack.' There's my course."

So he's got that going for him ... which is nice.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.